A Short History Of The Line

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This is not meant to be an in-depth history of what happened during this period, but a brief explanation for casual readers to this wiki. For more detailed information, please refer to some of the reference material on the books page, or the expanded History of the FR.

There is a Chronology which may be of use; this can be accessed by clicking on the paragraph headers.


Pre 1830 - Ideas and rivalries abound[edit]

Discovery of slate beneath the moors at the head of the Vale of Ffestiniog sows the seeds of the industry that will lead to the FR. William A. Madocks conceives and builds the embankment enclosing the Traeth Mawr, now known as The Cob. As the Afon Glaslyn flows out through the sluices regulating the effects of the tide it scours out the channel that will become Madocks' Port. A number of ideas were floated to build a railway to bring the slate from the quarries to the sea.

1830 - 1862 - Creation of a horse tramway[edit]

A group of Dublin entrepreneurs are persuaded by one of their number, Henry Archer, to finance the construction of a railway to carry slates from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Port Madoc. This is authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1832, and services commence in 1836


1863 - 1889 - The Spooner era[edit]

Following the introduction of steam traction, the high noon of Victorian prosperity and fame sees the railway pioneering articulated locomotives and bogie carriages as slate haulage revenues reach dizzy heights.


1890 - 1926 - Boom & Bust[edit]

Competition from main line railway companies for the slate trade and faltering economic prosperity puts the railway into slow decline, which accelerates following the Great War.


1927 to 1946 - A steady decline[edit]

Services continued to contract with the slate industry's decline. After the failure of the Welsh Highland venture in 1937 a complete cessation of passenger service follows from the outbreak of war in September 1939.

Finally, in 1946, the company ceased operations, and all staff, except for the manager, were laid off

Scrap Merchants and others paid attention to the FR until it was realised by management that the line theoretically could not be dismantled without another costly Act of Parliament.


1947 to 1954 - A new hope[edit]

Bill Broadbent surveyed the line in May 1947 to assess the possibility of re-opening.

Amongst the earliest of possible takeover groups were the 1949 Group, which through the next few years transformed itself into the Festiniog Railway Society.

The Society examined various ways to take over, and operate, the moribund railway, but were held back by the lack of finance. Enter Alan Pegler, a senior railwayman, with 'an interest in running a small Railway' (The word "Heritage" doesn’t seem to have existed then!).

The effective transfer of ownership took place on 24 June 1954. By August 1954, with track cleared from Boston Lodge towards the Cemetery, a representative of the Ministry of Transport, Colonel McMullen, visited the line to give his official views and wish those present good luck. The people present were the Colonel, Alan Pegler, Trevor Bailey, Bill Broadbent, L Heath Humphrys, Philip Vaughan Davies, Gilbert, and a local newspaperman.


1955 - 1958 - Trains return[edit]

Slowly the line was cleared and repaired. By 1955 a small service commenced running just across the Cob. By 1956 the line was operational to Minffordd, by 1957 to Penrhyn and by 1958 services ran from Harbour Station to Tan y Bwlch.

1959 - 1982 - An amended route[edit]

Trains were extended to Dduallt in 1968. The top end of the line, however, from Dduallt through to Blaenau Ffestiniog was under threat by the Central Electricity Board, who were building what is now the Tanygrisiau reservoir. A legal battle ensued and various alternative routes looked into. The outcome - The Deviation.

The completed deviation and opening through to Blaenau Ffestiniog took place in 1982


1983 - 1994 - Consolidation[edit]

A period of consolidation with renovation, rebuilding, and repair being the order of the day. Detattification. Growth of Parks & Gardens Department; Kids' Week laying foundations for the future. Some new locomotives and carriages.


1995 - to date - A new venture[edit]

Plans made to rebuild the Welsh Highland line from Caernarfon to Porthmadog. Completed to Rhyd Ddu in 2003, work on the final 12.5 mile section, Phase 4, started in 2006, principal tracklaying being completed in 2008. The line re-opened on April 20th, 2011 - 175 years to the day from the opening of the FR in 1836.

See also[edit]